Thursday, September 03, 2009

New Sewist Thursdays - Pattern Sizing

Well it's Thursday again, so it's time for another "New Sewists Question."

Jodie writes:
"Here’s a suggestion for a new sewist question/answer. I’m a Jr. High Home Ec. teacher and one thing my students find confusing is pattern sizing (don’t we all). It might be a good idea to let the new sewers know that dress sizing and pattern sizing are not the same. Also some suggestions about what measurement to base their pattern size on (hip/upper bust), etc. might be good…."

I know that this is a challenge for new sewists because it seems that when you go to the pattern counter you should be able to pick a pattern based upon the size that you wear in RTW. And many new sewists are surprised when after making the garment per the pattern instructions, it does not fit.

The reason for this is because RTW garments don't have a standardized measuring system. Each designer/manufacturer is allowed to determine the sizing for their garments. It is the reason why you wear a size 8 in one line and a size 12 in another. Patterns, however, work on a set of measurements that are pretty average from pattern line to pattern line. Please note that I said "average" because the amount of ease in a pattern line is a whole 'nuther discussion!

So let's take this step by step. Before you hit the pattern counter, book or internet site, you MUST get a proper set of measurements taken. I know some think that a proper set is bust, waist and hips but that is actually just the starting point. I wrote a blog post on the extensive measurements I've taken, you can read it here. I truly believe that the more measurements you have, the better the fit you achieve. The big 4 pattern companies have a tech center or a place where they explain how to take measurements for using with their is a link to the Vogue site.

When taking the measurements, be truthful. Don't fudge the numbers, don't get upset about the numbers and don't be scared of the numbers. Because everyday your body wakes you up and gets you through a day...treasure it. It's yours and it's precious.

Measurements are taken best when a friend is involved. That way you don't have to get into contortions or inadvertently read the tape measure wrong! *smile* Once again, I advise taking as many as can only help!

Now this next part is controversial. What measurements do you use to purchase a pattern? Personally, I think this is subjective ~ that there is no hard and fast rule. Because what works for me...may not work for you. But I know that people like rules. So the standby advice is to purchase a pattern that is closest to your actual bust, waist, hip measurements. The new advice is to purchase by your high bust measurement...but I don't do that! *LOL* I purchase patterns by my largest measurement which happens to be my hips/behind measurement. Though I think a new sewist should stick with the original rule of bust/waist/hip because you don't know what does and doesn't work for you yet.

As with all things sewingwise, there are exceptions. If you are a more experienced sewist, you have worked out the exceptions. As a beginner sewist you have to realize that this is a process. None of us were experts at the beginning...we worked through the challenges...even enjoyed them as we learned how to purchase the right style and size to fit the pattern to our bodies.

So to recap - to purchase the right need an accurate set of measurements...once you have your measurements...then and only then do you want to look at the pattern tables to come up with the pattern size you need. Only after getting a clearer picture of what size you would be in a pattern, do I suggest purchasing one.

Okay some news & updates:

1. New Sewist Thursdays will be on hiatus next week. I'm on vacation and plan to sew, sew, sew so I will probably be blogging about my sewing progress.

2. Colleen will do another fitting post later in the month. I know you were looking forward to it this week but it will patient! *smile*

3. Please continue to send questions to my email address. However, kindly remember to put "New Sewists Questions" in the subject line. I almost deleted one the other day!

Lastly...September is National Sewing Month! Please make sure that you support the month in some way since sewing is our artform and one that we are all so very passionate about!

I start vacation tomorrow afternoon and I'm soooooo excited. Sleeping late, watching junky tv, spending a little quality time with my main man, Danny and sewing, sewing, sewing! I'm going to try and remember to change out of my floppy t-shirt...but there are no guarantees! *LOL*

...and as always, more later!


  1. Thanks for the "new sewist Thursdays" posts. Although I started sewing many years ago, I stopped for a number of years and am trying to get back to it. During that time, some of the rules that used to work for me no longer do, because my shape is definately not the same! Your sewing vacation sounds wonderful!

    Happy Sewing Month to all!

  2. Carolyn, I'm with on purchasing the pattern size by your largest measurement. I tried the high bust thing, and it threw me off for years!!! Now I buy by my full bust and alter for the smaller shoulders. Works much better and I don't spend nearly as much time tinkering to get things to fit properly, and end up with fewer projects in the trash!

  3. Sewing without a lot of interruption??? What's not to like! Have a Wonderful SEWCATION!
    Looking forward to seeing the results!

  4. floppy t-shirt? You're on vacation! I think you should wear your jammies all day if you want to.

    Oh, and I have to tell you that I thought of you when out shopping the other day at Macy's. I rounded the corner into the handbag section and immediately spotted a couple that I really, really liked. Michael Kors, of course. I think you're rubbing off on me, Carolyn.

    Thanks again for the new sewists Thursdays. I'm learning so much. Looking forward to seeing what you make next week!


  5. I am an experienced sewer and now I am sewing for my thirteen-year-old daughter. She measures a size 16 girl's, so she has almost grown out of that size range. Some of the pattern companies don't have junior patterns at all, some have very little to choose from. What do I do when she outgrows girl's?

  6. Happy vacation! I will be joining you at least this weekend in making it a sewing weekend before my dd comes home for a visit next week.

  7. I buy according to my high bust measurement because otherwise the shoulders are too big. I would love to know how to do an adjustment for smaller shoulders as Debbie F said and then buy to my full bust.

  8. Thank you Carolyn for this post. I am a new sewist myself, but when I buy my pattern I buy based on the finished garment measurement which is usually placed on the bottom of envelop , if I choose my real measurement based on the actual body measurement usually placed on the top of the envelop , the fit is always too big. So my question is, is this the general rule or it's just working for me?
    Thanks and have a fantastic vacation

  9. I do the same as Aminat and buy by the finished garment measurements. If I buy by my measurements, I am swimming in it.

    Have a great vacation.

  10. Gee, I don't sew clothing as I am a quilter, but I didn't have a clue about this.

    Thanks for sharing. I may need to know this at some time in the future.

    PS, I emailed you a question about a sewing machine.

  11. Ann and I did a Cynthia Guffey class together a few years ago, and she had us take our measurements in half pattern increments, that is: front waist side-to-side, back waist side-to-side, etc, in addition to recording our all round measurements. This is because patterns are often drafted for a fold placement, have a center or back seam, and have side seams. Half-increment measurements make it really easy to determine how much a pattern piece needs to be altered.

  12. Thank you. Even though I sew all the time, I don't sew for myself. I think the main reason is fear of sizing. I used to sew all my clothes, but that was when I wore a size nothing and could make anything fit. These days I think I would go by bust and hip size mostly. I have been following your suggestions for altering patterns, and I'm getting closer to the day that I will get brave enough to sew for myself again.

  13. I think all new sewists should make a sloper before they sew anything else. (Of course I still need to do this for myself.)

    Have a fantastic sewing vacation and I hope you are super-productive!

  14. Thanks for your new sewist Thursdays, Carolyn. I am a "re-discovered" sewist and have been lurking for a while now, but my day is not complete until I roll through my sewing blog feeds. Thanks for making a special place for "us."

  15. Have a lovely sewing vacation, Carolyn. I can't wait to see what lovely things you create. I have arranged to take Friday off, so I am truly looking forward to a four-day sewing weekend.

  16. Thank you for addressing the sizing issue. I have a number of friends who have gotten back into sewing and this is always something that throws them off. Although, it surprises me in some ways. As you pointed out, all of us wear different sizes in different stores, just the other day I purchased a size 14 pant, a size 16 pant, and a pair of mens jeans int a 36 inch waist, all of which looked good and ALL IN THE SAME STORE!! So if in the same store I don't even wear the same size from line to line, how do I even KNOW what my rtw size is? I have items in my closet from size 8 to size 18. At least with most patterns I can start with an 18 and make my alterations from there. I find pattern sizing to be MUCH more reliable than rtw sizing!


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